It’s easy to forget that USC outside linebacker Porter Gustin is just a sophomore. It seems like he’s already been rushing the passer for several years because of how much playing time he received.
As a freshman, Gustin backed up Scott Felix at the rush end position before ultimately commandeering the spot at the end of the year. Playing the Predator outside linebacker position in Clancy Pendergast's scheme this year, Gustin rarely leaves the field. He has participated in the second most defensive snaps this season, averaging 61.7 defensive plays per game.
The experience is starting to show. Much like his body, where he has added more than 20 pounds of muscle since arriving on campus last summer, Gustin is progressing on the field.
He’s getting to the quarterback more consistently, even if the sacks haven’t yet come. He’s applying pressure and affecting the opponent’s signal caller whether it be by forcing quicker throws or by getting his hands up to deflect passes, including batting down a big fourth down Justin Herbert pass attempt in the red zone last week that helped the Trojans steal back the momentum when Oregon was trying to get a second half rally started.
“I feel like I'm getting to the quarterback a lot better. I just need to finish the plays. There's a lot of times where I'm slipping off of 'em or either the quarterback is making me miss.
“[Deflecting passes is] part of my game as well as just the straight up rush, but on the fourth down against Oregon, I just read it. It was a pressure, so I was already coming. At that point, I decided turning around and trying to get the receiver wasn't going to do me very good at that point, so I just kept coming after him. Keyed the ball and got my hands up.”
An Oregon score would have made it an 11-point game. Instead, after Gustin’s fourth down stop, the Trojans went down and scored to push it’s lead up to a commanding 38-13. Facing a read option attack that requires patience and consistency, Gustin finished the game with four tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and two pass breakups.
The defensive line, as a whole, appears to be improving week over week. The players give a lot of credit to the influence of graduate transfer Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, who has given a very young unit a veteran presence that it can learn from.
“He gets in there and he knows how to watch film,” Gustin said. “He breaks it down and he knows the play before it's coming. Being as physical and strong as he is, he dominates in there and he's helped a lot. Also bringing some maturity and leadership to the team being the older guy.”
Tu'ikolovatu has been a coagulant in the middle of the line as the players have grown more comfortable with each other. They are playing well off each other’s strengths. On one particular play against Oregon, Gustin ran a stunt, swinging inside of defensive end Rasheem Green. The play confused the Ducks offensive line and Green, Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu met at the quarterback for a sack.
“You know that [stunt] we ran, we ran the same thing a few games earlier at Utah and we didn't run it right,” Gustin said. “As a result, we didn't get there. We've improved and we ran the same game and we made it work, so we definitely seen a lot of progress.
“We're playing a lot better together. We're just really coming together and trusting each other and learning each others strengths and weaknesses.”
Watch Porter Gustin, above, talk about preparing for a matchup with No. 4 Washington and how he and the defensive line have been progressing throughout the year.
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